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The Curse of the Bambino

1 rating: 1.0
A book by Dan Shaughnessy

Describes how the fateful selling of Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees in 1920 marked the beginning of an eighty-year streak of bad luck for the Red Sox, in a new annniversary edition of the acclaimed, anecdotal baseball history, updated through … see full wiki

Author: Dan Shaughnessy
Genre: Sports & Recreation, Biography & Autobiography, Social Science
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Date Published: September 30, 2004
1 review about The Curse of the Bambino

A Cursed Story

  • Apr 10, 2010
Rating:
+1
Pros: Well-written and interesting

Cons: Drenched in weepy sentimentality

The Bottom Line: Go Yankees!

I'm having a hard time figuring out what to make of Dan Shaughnessy. On one hand, he's got talent. On the other, he afflicts his writing with shameless and almost weepy sentimentality and the arrogance and willful blindness of your stereotypical New England sports fan. I read Ever Green, his informative and detailed history of the NBA's Boston Celtics. In that book, he had two modes: One was it being the end of the world after a 37-win season, which he referred to as the darkest days of the franchise. (Although to be fair to Celtics fans, this book was written before Larry Bird retired and therefore long before those nasty early millennial years.) The other was the sappy mode of an aging gent talking about the good ol' days, except it was worse because Shaughnessy was bragging most of the time. Objectivity? Who needs it? I understand that Shaughnessy is a Massachusetts native son, but his book seemed to unabashedly nurse man crushes on everyone who ever donned Celtic green.

Of course Shaughnessy is best known for his baseball writing. He is, in fact, the guy who invented the whole concept of the Curse of the Bambino, and HE ADMITS THIS IN THAT VERY BOOK. Yeah, needless to say, I was expecting more sentimental preening from one of the only fans on Earth that still thinks of the Red Sox as underdogs. While Shaughnessy actually does flash a bit of objectivity, he still spins his tales of woe as if the Red Sox never won a single game since the Babe's years there. 

I was quite pleased to see Shaughnessy himself stamp out the idea that the Red Sox are a historical tale of suffering because of an inadequate payroll. Any comprehensive history of the Red Sox should include the fact that they became baseball's biggest spenders once Tom Yawkey swept in. He essentially admits the BoSox haven't been quite as bad as their fans make them out to be, either - they've had losing seasons, but they haven't finished in the basement since the 1930s. Of course there's also plenty of Yankee hate, and Shaughnessy of course recites the popular myth of Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth to pay for his play. He does mention, however, that a lot of the core players of the great Yankee teams in the 1920's were Boston refugees. 

Boston fans want to forget the terrible 1930's ever happened, and in this respect Shaughnessy is more than happy to oblige. The early history of the Red Sox is fairly rushed. As he keeps moving toward the newer heartbreaks, Shaughnessy spends more and more time playing up the good points, exalting the good times - especially in 1967 and 1975 - and taking more time than a particularly slow pitcher uses between pitches.  He takes extreme pleasure in the 1975 World Series, which of course is justified - the legendary sixth game of that year's World Series, the fact that it was the two best teams in baseball meeting in a showdown-like manner. Some of the better stories happen occur in the '60's and '70's section - one of my favorites is about the 1967 World Series, the year of the Impossible Dream actually being impossible. Shaughnessy is very objective and respectful of Boston's opponents in the Fall Classic, the St Louis Cardinals, and how Bob Gibson gave what is almost inarguably the greatest pitching performance in Series history - and yet Carl Yastrzemski managed to figure him out. 

The Jackie Robinson story is one of my all-time favorites in baseball, and The Curse of the Bambino gives us the angle of it from Boston. Robinson was the second of Boston's great personnel mistakes. (You KNOW what the first one was.) Robinson was invited to a tryout with the Red Sox, who basically gave him the "we'll call" line. The story in given a fair amount of detail, but Shaughnessy also appears to point fingers. What those unfamiliar with the whole Robinson's saga don't understand is that the breaking of baseball's color barrier required a set of circumstances so intricate and minute that there might still be a Negro League had a team besides the Dodgers attempted to field Robinson. Robinson's gentlemanly temperament, Branch Rickey's fierce devotion to his religion, the racially enlightened commissioner who wasn't installed in 1945 - the year of the Boston tryout - and Brooklyn's farm team playing at home in tolerant Montreal, Quebec (as opposed to Boston's farm team in Louisville, Kentucky, where the people wouldn't have accepted him). 

Toward the end of the book, Shaughnessy starts poking fun at the culture of the Curse. He even mentions the fact that he was the one who started the whole phenomenon. He mentions the whole thing with a hint of touched bemusement, as if he can't believe he started this whole subculture. He talks about the kind of symbolism Red Sox fans started looking for in in certain names, numbers, and dates which coincide with dates of more infamous incidents in Red Sox history. Of course, Shaughnessy is not averse to tracking these kinds of symbols himself, only when he does it, his tongue isn't anywhere near his cheek. At one point, he mentions that the year Jackie Robinson was born - 1919 - was the same year Babe Ruth was given to the New York Yankees. At another point, he points out that the name of Johnny Pesky's wife was Ruth. 

The Curse of the Bambino gives a competent history of the Boston Red Sox, but since it revolves around the team's almost supernatural misfortunes since the selling of Ruth, the history begins with said sale and the long-winded justification of Harry Frazee for doing it. Shaughnessy doesn't do a whole lot before setting up the Red Sox as his sad sack, perennial underdog losers. Since the book already covered nearly everything about the history of the franchise when it was originally released back in 1990, I wonder why Shaughnessy just didn't shrug, say "what the hell" and fill us in on the period from 1903 to 1918, when the Sox won five World Series titles. It would have really helped set up the pre-sale story of Boston so baseball newcomers could better understand why the Red Sox faithful view their team as also-rans all the time. 

Shaughnessy, being a Massachusetts native and therefore a lifelong soul slave to the Red Sox, knows the city, the passion, and the atmosphere and he conveys it very successfully. He talks about the obsession of Red Sox Nation's dedicated legions, telling stories about what fans did to support the Red Sox. 

I read the 2004 edition of The Curse of the Bambino, with recollections of the Curse taking on a life of its own after 1990, and a recap of the near miss of 2003 and a certain home run from a certain Aaron (expletive deleted) Boone. The 2004 edition was released in April of that year. The final words Shaughnessy wrote in this edition are: "It wasn't the end of the world, of course. Not quite. Not yet. The Red Sox always live to play again. And again. And again. Right up until the day the Curse is finally broken." Baseball readers are now fairly well assured that The Curse of the Bambino will now end with those same words in every reprinting for at least a few decades. For those who don't know the sport, the day Shaughnessy said the Red Sox will always live to play again until finally occurred on October 24, 2004, when the Bosox swept the St Louis Cardinals - who had been their World Series antagonists in 1946 and 1967 - out of Busch Stadium, at last winning that elusive title. 

Recommended:
Yes

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